Sorong - Papua, Ambon - Spice Islands, and Hong Kong; December 27, 2010 - January 2, 2011

After the isolation of Kri Eco resort, our two nights in Sorong, Papua gave us a feel for Indonesia. On the good side, the Indonesians are some of the friendliest people we've come across. A smile and a hello creates an instant friend. Answering "America: Barack Obama" when asked "Where are you from?" gains a high-five. (What a change from revealing one's nationality during some of our past travels!) The people of Sorong weren't after money or anything else; they were genuinely interested in interacting with us. It's the only place we've been thanked up and down for photographing people, rather than vice-versa. Photos 1 & 2 are a sample from our sojourn in the local market.

On the flip side, one has to wonder how this country manages to function. Checking into a hotel or flight, or simply buying a few items in a minimart, requires a long process of manual lists and protracted examination of bits of paper. There's simply no sense of efficiency or urgency. At the internet café we frequented in Sorong, the electricity was out about half the time. Apparently outages are widespread, as evidenced by the truly classic sign in our hotel elevator, shown in photo 3.

One trip complication arose towards the end of our stay in Raja Ampat. Tim developed a small cold, which thanks to continued diving (pure stupidity on our part) turned into sinus blockage and then an ear infection. He abstained from the last several dives and we loaded him up with various medications, but in Sorong we gave serious thought to canceling the next leg of our trip, rather than subjecting Tim to an ear-risky plane flight. Fortunately, he improved rapidly just in the nick of time, and he incurred no problems during our flight to Ambon on Wings Air (slogan: "fly is cheap"; seat pocket contents: emergency-exit map, and a card segmented into several religions praying for a safe flight).

Ambon is one of the Spice Islands, a one-hour flight west from Papua. It's dramatically more developed than Raja Ampat, but Maluku Divers, where we stayed, is in a lovely, quiet location, and is quite a step up from Kri Eco in overall comfort. We enjoyed brand-new spacious bungalows, friendly staff, good food, and, as usual, interesting other guests. There are two small villages within walking distance of the resort; our strolls gathered large trails of friendly kids (photo 4, which also shows cloves out to dry). We had the wildest New Year's eve in years -- but admittedly that's not saying much. The resort hosted a party for the guests, staff and their families, and a few assorted villagers. Gigantic fireworks were set off rivaling commercial ones in the U.S., all manner of people danced together, party horns were blown until well past 2:00 AM, and the alcohol flowed (photo 5).

Of course the main reason we came to Ambon, and to Maluku Divers in particular, was for the diving. It's completely different from Raja Ampat, and indeed from most other dive destinations. All of our dives were "muck dives," meaning fewer attractive coral reefs in exchange for an astounding number of unusual creatures. Professional underwater photographers have been making a beeline for this place; Tim was in heaven. It's hard to explain how exhilarating it can be to spend 1½ hours diving in silt underneath fishing boats (photo 6), but the sea floor is littered with amazing life. Not all of the dive sites are quite that "mucky," but every one boasts a huge variety of interesting critters not often seen in other destinations. Photos 7-12 are a small sample of Tim's work. He'll be editing his photo collection for some time to come.

After four days at Maluku Divers, it was time to begin the long trek home. The first stage was a Lion Air flight (slogan: "we make you fly") to Jakarta, where we stayed overnight. The next morning we caught the Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong, where we had a handy layover from 2:30 PM until just after midnight. Although we've passed through the Hong Kong airport several times, we've never had time to visit the city. This time we did it up, covering lots of ground by foot, train, taxi, and ferry. We enjoyed sights in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island ranging from the waterfront, to the view from Victoria Peak (photo 13), to all manner of shopping district (Hong Kong's specialty), with a variety of eating along the way. Then it was back to the airport for the final 12-hour flight home.

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